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article number 385
article date 10-09-2014
copyright 2014 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Nothing Can Stop Television, 1946? A Report on its History and Implementation.
by Thomas Hutchinson

From the 1946 book, “Here is Television.”

In many respects the history of television follows closely the development of other important inventions. Very few of our modern conveniences, that we accept today without a thought, came into general use without a struggle on the part of those who sought to prove their advantages to the public.

While television has had comparatively few viewers who were willing to forget all about it and go back to radio or took the “go get a horse” attitude that greeted the early automobiles, television has taken longer to launch and has cost more money on the part of those who believed in it, than any other modern invention. But, in spite of the delays caused at first by a lack of knowledge and later by war, television has advanced.

Early Historic Dates

The first date that is in any way associated with television is 1817. In that year Baron Jons Jacob Berzelius, a Swedish chemist succeeded in isolating selenium. This date is an important one, for the discovery of selenium made television possible some hundred years later.

Though he had discovered a material capable of changing light energy into electrical energy neither he nor anyone else realized it, nor did they have any intimation of the importance of his discovery or the part it was to play in the history of the world.

This day was the beginning but also marked the first setback in the development of television for the discoverer of selenium knew nothing about photo-electricity. Nevertheless the “germ” of television had come into existence.

The next step was the accidental discovery that selenium would react to light. It had been used in electrical circuits as a resisting substance to limit the flow of current and, in 1873, a telegraph operator by the name of May noticed that the flow of electricity through the selenium varied with the amount of light shining on it. This meant that light energy could be turned into electrical energy and scientists were quick to see the possibilities of such a fact.

Shortly after May’s discovery the early development of television began both in Europe and America. All of these experiments were centered around the possibility of finding a means of controlling the characteristics of selenium and putting them to work.

An early idea involved the construction of a group of closely assembled selenium cells and then throwing a picture on them of varying brightness. As each individual cell would release electrical energy in proportion to the amount of light thrown upon, it seemed possible to send a picture by means of such an arrangement, if each cell was connected by wires to a corresponding lamp. (See drawing below.) The idea was discarded due to the thousands of wire lines necessary to provide a good picture.

ELECTRICAL REPRODUCTION OF STILL PICTURE. Each photocell is connected to its corresponding lamp through an amplifier and separate wires.

A Step Forward

In spite of this setback the idea of television was still alive. In 1880 the principle of scanning was suggested. This meant breaking the picture down into small segments and then sending them, one at a time, to the receiving point where they would be reassembled. Maurice Le Blanc suggested this basic principle and he proposed to accomplish it by means of a system of revolving mirrors.

Then, in 1884, Paul Nipkow took out a patent in Germany for scanning a picture by means of a spinning disk with holes punched near the edge in the form of a spiral. When the disk was rotated the eye could see only the top line of the picture through the first hole in the disk, the second hole scanned the second line and so on until the whole picture became visible line by line.

The system was planned to deliver each line of a picture to a selenium cell behind the disk. As the cell would react to the amount of light thrown on it, the strength of each signal sent would vary with the shades of black and white in the original picture. The process was reversed at the point of reception.

A light source was to distribute the varying degrees of light and shade controlled by another disk spinning in exact synchronization with the one at the point of pickup. Variations of this principle were the basis of “mechanical television.”

But with the theory evolved, television again stopped. There was no means available to receive properly the rapid changes of light and there was no way to amplify the low level currents generated by the light cells.

NIPKOW’S DISK MECHANISM. Nipkow used holes in the disk to create a picture, line by line.

Experiments with Electricity

The next important step came with the turn of the century. Scientists had continued their search for a means of developing Nipkow’s principle and into their investigations electrical advancement began to appear as a possible aid. Photoelectric cells were built and demonstrated and, in 1895, Marconi had sent and received his first wireless signals.

Karl Braun, using electricity for the first time in conjunction with television, began work on a crude receiving tube in which he sprayed electrons on to a chemical substance within a vacuum tube.

It was successfully demonstrated that the stream of electrons could be reduced to a fine point and directed as desired by means of magnets. This tube was the forerunner of the receiving tube we have today.

In 1907, using this tube as a receiver, Boris Rosing, a Russian, patented a television system; but the pickup equipment was still mechanical.

Shortly after this the idea of a full electronic system was suggested by A. A. Campbell-Swinton. Then came World War I and television development stopped again.

With the end of hostilities, research was resumed and improvements in Dr. Lee de Forest’s three-element vacuum tube, which had been developed during the war, gave impetus to the work.

Demonstrations were given in 1925 by C. F. Jenkins, an American, and John L. Baird, a Scotchman, using the mechanical scanning system. Based on the success achieved by these two men, one in America and the other in England, television started forward again.

Regular demonstrations in this country began around 1926 and for almost ten years interest was high. The system used was a development of the scanning disk for picking up the picture while the receiver was electronic.

C. F. JENKINS. Mr. Jenkins was the inventor of the movie camera/projector in the 1890’s and continued with demonstrations of a mechanical television system in 1925.

Programs on the Air

Naturally, American manufacturers of electronic equipment were interested in this new medium. So was The Bell Telephone Company. This company successfully demonstrated the possibility of sending pictures by wire as early as 1927 and, in the following year, using a long wave radio signal as a carrier, subjects were televised in London, broadcast from there, and received here.

During this period several long distance demonstrations were made and, in May, 1928, radio station WGY in Schenectady, went on the air with a regular program schedule.

Programs were broadcast three days each week and on September 11 of that year, the first complete dramatic program ever to be broadcast in this country by means of television, went on the air. The play, a one-act melodrama, was a piece entitled “The Queen’s Messenger.”

It was not long before other companies began to realize the potential possibilities of television. The end of the year 1931 saw five television stations with experimental programs on the air. They were General Electric in Schenectady, RCA-NBC, CBS, and Gimbel Brothers in New York and Don Lee in Los Angeles.

All of these stations were using some variation of the mechanical scanning system with a one hundred-and-eighty-line picture. Eventually the line structure was raised to two hundred and forty lines but that was the highest definition achieved by this system.

These regular schedules on the air were of comparatively short duration for by 1932 every station had discontinued their transmissions.

The reason for the termination was obvious as the experiments had proved that the limits imposed by the scanning disk were such that the perfection needed would never be attained as there was a definite limit to the scanning speed that could be developed with mechanical pickup equipment. Seeing the impossibility of developing a workable commercial system, the stations went off the air.

Television stopped again and went back to the laboratory.


The Beginning of the Electronic System

The success attained, meager though it was, strengthened the belief in the minds of those interested, that television could be made a commercial reality if higher definition pictures could be produced. Already new discoveries were pointing a way to accomplish this.

In 1923, Vladimir K. Zworkin had filed a patent application on the first form of the modern television camera tube. He called it the “Iconoscope” from the Greek words, “icon”—image and “scope”—to observe. Shortly after this he demonstrated a tube for televising a scene without any mechanically moving parts.

He had also demonstrated a receiving tube, the “Kinescope,” which was all electric in its operation; but so far this device had been used only in conjunction with mechanical scanning. In the interim he had gone on with the development of his electronic pickup tube. Other inventors were also working along the same lines and Philco T. Farnsworth developed an electric camera tube that he called an “Image Dissector.”

KINESCOPE TUBE USED TO REPRODUCE A TELEVISION PICTURE. Electromagnetic coils bend the electron beam to form scan lines.

In the meantime, Baird and others had been active in England and in 1935 it was recommended that the British Government establish a short wave television system as a public service. The year 1936 saw the start in England of regular television transmissions with the use of a full electronic system. The number of hours on the air was limited, but a regular service was established.

Here in America we were as yet a long way from any regular service. Experiments had been made using the electronic system with a 240-line picture, but to really improve the mechanical system it was obvious that a better picture must be delivered and development work was begun to accomplish this.

In 1936, RCA broadcast the first television picture using the electronic system to deliver a 343-line image. Shortly after this Don Lee, CBS, and the Zenith Television Corporation began making plans for electronic broadcasts. For the next year or two no regular schedules of any moment were attempted but many experimental programs were broadcast. The line structure of the picture was raised to 441 lines and the overall detail of the picture was improved.


The year 1939 seemed, in the minds of many, the real starting point for television in America. NBC began a regular program schedule of fifteen hours per week. Zenith inaugurated a regular schedule in Chicago. Don Lee was on the air regularly in Los Angeles. Manufacturers offered receiving sets for sale to the public.

Imposing demonstrations were given daily at the New York World’s Fair. The stage seemed set for television.

Television in England

While America had been getting ready, Europe had gone ahead and by the summer of 1938 was far in the lead. The BBC had studios in Alexandra Palace and had two years of program experience behind them. Their program schedule at that time included an hour of film each weekday morning for dealer set demonstrations plus an hour of live television in the afternoon every day except Sunday, and from one to two hours every evening for a total of over fourteen hours of live studio programs each week.

The permanent staff, devoting their time exclusively to television, was approximately three hundred and sixty-seven people. Some six thousand receiving sets had been sold and plans were under way for extensive additions to their studio facilities. Shortly after this program quality was improved, public interest became much more evident, and the sale of sets jumped considerably.

Between 1936 and 1939 the English television audience had seen variety, drama, music, and educational programs from the television studios. They had seen the Coronation procession of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, plays telecast directly from the stage of London theaters, the English Derby from Epsom Downs, the Oxford-Cambridge boat races, tennis at Wimbledon, and many other outstanding events.



In Holland the most significant television activity of importance consisted of public demonstrations given by means of a completely mobile unit. The cameras and receivers were transported from city to city to public fairs and other gatherings; at every showing there was considerable public interest.

The ironical part of the whole thing was that the company who inaugurated these demonstrations did so to show to the people of Europe that television was not sufficiently developed to make it worthwhile as a public service. They attempted to demonstrate this fact with a picture, better perhaps, than the one the BBC was broadcasting in London.


At the 1938 radio show in Berlin, television was very much in evidence. Four different makes of sets were offered to the public with pictures varying from 7 to 16 inches in size. Two companies, “Telefunken” and “Fernseh Ag” had large screen demonstrations. The Germans had been using a mechanical system but were then changing over to the full electronic operation.

A limited program service was on the air. Television telephone service was in operation and was open to the public between Berlin, Leipzig, and Munich. Anyone planning to use this service would notify in advance, the party they wished to talk to, who would come to the post office at the appointed hour and then by means of television, both parties saw as well as heard each other.


In France the mechanical system which had been in use for regular transmissions was being discarded. Because of the stationary nature of the French mechanical camera, close-ups were achieved by moving the whole set, be it a room, a garden or whatever the play called for, up to the camera. The entire stage was on a movable base.

The impracticality of the whole thing was self-evident to anyone, so the advent of the electronic system was looked forward to with considerable rejoicing on the part of those involved in producing programs. Good electronic receiving sets had been developed and with the antenna on the Eiffel Tower, French television enthusiasts anticipated a new era.

Then came the outbreak of war. The BBC closed their studios and development everywhere in Europe ended.

In the United States television continued, but from 1936 to the present time it has undergone growing pains, perhaps unequalled by any other new industry. It has started and stopped and then started again.

It was for a brief period authorized as a commercial medium. This status was then cancelled to be authorized again later. Frequencies have been changed, necessitating changes in transmitters and receivers; the war has intervened. Arguments for and against television have made themselves felt.

Today, after almost ten years of operation, we are only beginning to get ready to go ahead.

The Problem in America

The motivating force behind all the delays in regulations has been a desire on the part of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the manufacturers, and the broadcasters to establish an American system of television that would do the most good for the greatest number of people.

Many manufacturers were anxious to go ahead as early as 1938. As a matter of fact, sets were manufactured and placed on sale. But the first advertisement that stated that television was ready and that sets were on sale brought down severe criticism by the FCC. They felt that if thousands of sets were purchased by the public it would be impossible to change the standards later.

The result was that while some few thousand sets were sold, television is only now experiencing a complete go ahead on the part of everyone in the industry.

STUDIO OPERATIONS AT NBC IN 1937. The plain scenery and early lights are worthy of note.

From the first the possibility of improvements in the system was one of the main stumbling blocks. The false starts with mechanical television and the improvements evident in the electronic system were conclusive evidence that better and better television could eventually be developed. What to do in the meantime was the burning question.

Definite factions and lines of thought were developing and the whole American situation was far from what it should have been.

In 1939, NBC, Zenith, and Don Lee were on the air with regular schedules. In September the BBC went off the air. In November the General Electric Company began tests. The FCC authorized nineteen television channels for experimental broadcasting but forbade any commercial operation in which fees were charged for the use of facilities.

In February of 1940 the FCC approved limited commercial television operation effective in September. In March the order was rescinded and a new hearing was set for the following April.

Confusion as to where television was going was evident on all sides. Some people bought sets, others decided to wait. In that same month General Electric rebroadcast pictures in the Albany-Schenectady area that originated in New York, starting a service that has been continued with some few interruptions ever since.

The Philco Radio and Television Corporation went on the air to broadcast the Republican National Convention to those sets in the Philadelphia area, with NBC releasing the pictures in New York.

In September the Columbia Broadcasting System demonstrated three-color television. The argument immediately started over whether to go ahead with monochrome or wait for color. In November the Allen B. Du Mont Laboratories went on the air with experimental tests in New York. In January of 1941 Balaban and Katz began experimental broadcasts in Chicago.

In May, FCC issued new rules, set up new frequencies for channels and authorized commercial television to become effective on July 1st.

The change in channels meant that all the receiving sets as well as the transmitters on the channels affected had to be altered. Incidentally, television lost a channel in this new alignment; the channels available were reduced from nineteen to eighteen. Only seven were in the relatively lower frequencies, however, and nothing had been tried on channels in the upper frequencies.

RECENT CBS ANDTENNA IN THE CHRYSLER BUILDING FOR STATION WCBW. Low frequency antennas are seen near the top while in the lower right foreground, the new ultra high frequency antenna is visible.

Commercial Television at Last

On July 1, 1941, commercial operations began with NBC and CBS on the air with fifteen hours of program per week. More sets were sold until the television receivers in the New York area were estimated to be around six thousand sets. Some few hundred were in the Albany-Schenectady area, some in Chicago and somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand in Los Angeles.

Then came Pearl Harbor. No one knew exactly how our entry into the war would affect television but they soon found out. At first the possibilities of the medium as an aid in training air raid groups and other civilian war workers was utilized, but the war soon began to make inroads in technical personnel and equipment.

In January, Zenith discontinued their broadcasting operations. In June, CBS reduced their program schedule to four hours per week, while Du Mont inaugurated a regular weekly service. In September, Television Productions began operations in Hollywood and two months later CBS discontinued service altogether.

In April of 1943 a policy of accepting commercial programs produced by advertising agencies for broadcasting was inaugurated by General Electric and in May the same policy was decided on by Du Mont.

In the midst of all this stopping and starting, the overall television picture was not good. No new sets were being manufactured as everything that was produced went to the armed forces. Old sets were wearing out and no new tubes were available. The final answer as to what was eventually to happen to television began to come to a head.

In an effort to try and settle this point for all time, the FCC asked everyone in any way connected with the industry to get together and try and work out a plan. The invitation was accepted and the Radio Technical Planning Board was formed. It was composed of the outstanding men in the electronic field. In 1944 this board submitted its findings to the FCC.

DR. ZWORKIN WITH TWO TYPES OF DIRECT VIEWING RECEIVERS. Dr Zworkin worked on both the television camera tube, Iconoscope and receiving tube, Kinescope. Dr Zworkin escaped from Russia in 1918 and came to the United States.

About this time the question of high and low frequencies came to the fore. The proponents of high frequencies maintained that television as it then existed should be stopped entirely until a system could be made to operate in the ultra-high frequencies.

The other side protested that thousands of other inventions were not held back until they reached final perfection. They advocated the continuation of television development in the lower frequencies.

In May, 1944, CBS resumed a program schedule of four hours per week and during the fall of that year through 1945 and the spring of 1946 programs were broadcast every night in the week by some one of the three stations operating in New York.

Today we again have new channels. This means receivers and transmitters must again be changed, but it is hoped for the last time.

The year 1946 should see television stations in active operation in New York, Philadelphia, Schenectady, Chicago and Los Angeles. New sets will be on the market and with new stations being built everywhere, television should be finally on its way.

If new decisions, new regulations, strikes, lack of material, new discoveries and developments seem to slow it up again, we really need not worry. Some day television will emerge as the wonderful medium it really is.

Nothing can stop television.

NBC PICKS UP THE BROOKLYN DODGERS AND THE NEW YORK YANKEES. Rifle site view finder is visible on center camera. Commentator at extreme left.
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